The Very Repugnant Conclusion

I haven’t seen the very re­pug­nant con­clu­sion men­tioned much here, so I thought I’d add it, as I need it as an ex­am­ple in a sub­se­quent post.

Ba­si­cally, the re­pug­nant con­clu­sion says:

  • Let be a world filled with very happy peo­ple lead­ing mean­ingful lives. Then, ac­cord­ing to to­tal util­i­tar­i­anism, there is a world which is bet­ter than , where ev­ery­one has lives barely worth liv­ing—but the pop­u­la­tion is huge.

Some peo­ple come to ac­cept the re­pug­nant con­clu­sion, some­times re­luc­tantly. More difficult to ac­cept is the very re­pug­nant con­clu­sion:

  • Let be a world filled with very happy peo­ple lead­ing mean­ingful lives. Then, ac­cord­ing to to­tal util­i­tar­i­anism, there is a world which is bet­ter than , where there is a pop­u­la­tion of suffer­ing peo­ple much larger than the to­tal pop­u­la­tion of , and ev­ery­one else has lives barely worth liv­ing—but the pop­u­la­tion is very huge.

This one feels more nega­tive than the stan­dard re­pug­nant con­clu­sion, maybe be­cause it strikes at our egal­i­tar­ian and pri­ori­tar­ian in­stincts, or maybe be­cause of the na­ture of suffer­ing.

Any­way, my motto on these things is gen­er­ally:

  • When you find morally wrong out­comes that con­tra­dict your moral the­ory, then en­rich your moral the­ory rather than twist­ing your moral judge­ments.